Written by Wendy Johnstone
“What happens if one of us gets COVID-19? We don’t have children locally who can help us, and I wouldn’t want to expose them either. My husband relies on me to provide care. I worry so much about this. I just don’t know what we’d do.”
Margaret is caring for her husband who has multiple chronic conditions, including kidney disease. Caregiving got a whole lot harder since the pandemic hit our shores: potentially contracting COVID-19; feeling isolated at home (or not being able to see the person we are caring for); managing day-to-day activities; getting food and other necessities; and coping with emotional and financial strain.
These stresses are normal and expected. In fact, it would be surprising if a caregiver wasn’t stressed or worried during a pandemic. But when stress escalates, it can dominate a caregiver’s thoughts and actions, create unhealthy responses, disturb sleep, and be a catalyst in the decline of their own health and wellbeing.
Building resiliency helps caregivers go from feeling discouraged to capable, while sustaining their health and wellbeing. It expands capacity and reduces vulnerability to stress. Vivian Komori captures resiliency perfectly in her quote, “Life is not about how fast you run or how high you climb, but how well you can bounce.”
The following strategies for building resiliency are supported by research and real caregivers’ experiences:
Stay Connected: A primary factor in resiliency is having strong connections with family and friends who are supportive and caring. Join or start a virtual support group.
Nurture Your Inner Superhero: Seeing ourselves in a positive light, believing in our abilities and knowing our strengths helps us bounce back from stress and challenging situations. Being a caregiver takes great strength and fortitude. Take a moment to reflect on what you’ve overcome since COVID-19 and remind yourself this isn’t your first rodeo! Caregivers are likely more adaptable than most. So, nurture that superhero, knowing that your steadfast and heartiness can withstand difficult situations.
Make Friends with Reality: Change and acceptance are a part of caregiving, especially when we are surrounded by so many unknowns. Resilient caregivers often provide the advice, “Accept circumstances that can’t be changed. Then turn your attention to what you can control and focus on that.”
Take Off the Rose-Coloured Glasses (temporarily): Be mindful and give space and time to acknowledge your feelings, stressors and fears. Thinking about stressful situations, challenges or worry about the future is not a problem; ruminating about them is. Research also shows the importance of not staying too long with negative thoughts and working towards a long-term perspective. One strategy that is proven: Bookend the stress, worry and anxiety by journalling, thinking or talking about it for an hour a day, and then turning your attention elsewhere.
Don Your Own Oxygen Mask First: Caregivers admit to struggling with this concept. Self-care is non-negotiable but can look different under different circumstances and based on your current needs. One caregiver has a strategy where she checks in with herself in the morning, at lunch and in the evening and asks, “What do I need right now?”
No one feels in control amid this global pandemic; however, we can control our response to circumstances we face daily. With these tips and some self-awareness, we can build resiliency like we build muscles: with consistent practice.